Coal India investors face the dark reality
Sharad Matade 18 February 2011

Heavily controlled by the government, CIL will not be able to increase prices or increase production easily. This is not what smart investors and analysts had bargained for

Coal India Limited (CIL), the world's largest coal producer, would not be able to increase coal prices in the backdrop of spiralling domestic inflation, even as low production and uncertainty over environment clearances may affect CIL's prospects in 2011, say experts. If CIL is unable to increase production and cannot increase prices, it will undermine high hopes of institutional investors who were desperate to buy CIL's share in the Initial Public Offering in November, assuming that CIL-a monopoly producer of coal-would raise prices in tandem with rising international prices and to cover rising costs.

Last year, CIL raised about Rs15,000 crore from the market, taking the help of credit ratings and on assumptions of rising production targets and price hikes.

However, the state-owned company has been under pressure on several fronts, with environment minister Jairam Ramesh is implementing stringent norms for mining coal which has forced CIL to revise its production target, while a wage revision that will take effect in July will also reduce profits.
CIL, which accounts for around 80% of the country's coal production, has been severely affected by the imposition of Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI) on many of its coal blocks.

Now, CIL has revised its production target for the current financial year to 444.50 million tonnes, which is 3.5% lower than the previous target. For FY12,  CIL has lowered the production target by 8% to 447.50 million tonnes.
"The company has landed in a tough situation. Many projects are under the scanner of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) which has hampered its production target," said an analyst with a Mumbai-based research firm. "Secondly, the company's wage cost will be very high once the hike comes into effect in July. And third, being a state-owned company it would find it nearly impossible to hike coal prices when inflation rates are very high."

The Coal India IPO was oversubscribed 15.3 times, as investors took a cue from the '5/5' grade it received from credit rating agencies. Leading credit rating agencies such as CRISIL Research and ICRA (an associate of Moody's Investor Services), and some others assigned the CIL IPO a grade '5/5', citing 'strong' fundamentals. The 'strong' fundamentals were decided on the basis of the company's dominant position, coal reserves and balance sheet.

One of the key assumptions with respect to Coal India's high valuation was possible price hikes. In a recent television interview, Partha S Bhattacharyya, chairman, CIL, said that the company had started the consultation process on price increases. But being a state-owned provider of around 80% of the fuel for the country's power sector, the Indian government will not allow CIL to implement a huge price hike, which is necessary at this point to boost the sentiment of investors.

Despite several measures, the inflation rate remains stubbornly high and if coal prices are allowed to go up the government would be under further pressure. An increase in coal prices would push power producers to increase charges and that would impact industrial growth.
All this is bad news for institutional investors, who were dying to get a piece of Coal India in the November IPO. Foreign investors owned 14.72 crore shares or 5.7% of the company till 14th January, up from 3.3% held soon after the IPO on 30th October. Filings indicate that retail investors' shareholding fell during the period from 4.1% to 1.8%. The revision of the production target has also shaken the trust of foreign investors in CIL. Legg Mason Funds, DSP Blackrock and other investors have sold their shares.

On debut, the company's shares surged around 40%. The stock price traded as high as Rs357 on 5th November, the second day of the stock listing, and today it is hovering at around Rs304.

Analysts and credit rating agencies did not bother to pay attention to CIL's true nature of operations, that it was a government-controlled company, as well as the environmental issues. On 14th February, CIL reported a net profit of Rs26.26 billion for the third quarter ended December 2010, on sales of Rs126.92 billion. However, it did not provide any comparative financial figures. Production was up by a marginal 2% to 113.85 million tonnes, while supplies for its consumers including power utilities were up by just 3% to 110.52 million tonnes.

According to a report by JP Morgan, "CIL indicated that its production target of 447 million tonnes for FY12 assumed that CEPI would continue after March 2011. But even if CEPI is removed, the company would not see a material increase from 447mt levels as the real impact would flow through only in the second half of FY12."

It is also said that several ministries, including coal, commerce and finance, have been pressuring Jairam Ramesh to soften the permission for coal projects. More than 150 projects of CIL are stuck due to want of clearances.

"Further, given the off-take problems, it would result only in an increase in inventory. If CEPI continues beyond FY12, production growth of 5% would be difficult," JP Morgan said.
According to the report, wagon availability for transporting coal remained a constraint with no growth in January-March availability. Against this backdrop, a 5% growth in despatches would be difficult to achieve.
"Coal India has highlighted that if the railway infrastructure problem does not get solved, they would look at setting up captive power plants," the report said.

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